Chinese Government Cranks Up Campaign to Suppress Online 'Rumor-Mongering'
Social media users will face three years in jail if rumors they post are visited by more than 5,000 Internet users or retweeted more than 500 times.
China is cranking up a campaign aimed at stopping "online rumor-mongering" as part of a broader crackdown on social media, which Chinese people are using increasingly to sidestep censorship of political debate.
Anyone who posts slanderous comments online in China, which has the world's biggest online population, will face up to three years in prison if their statements are widely reposted, according to a ruling from China's top court and its top prosecutor.
They will face charges if online rumors they create are visited by more than 5,000 Internet users or retweeted more than 500 times.
"People have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong, demanding with one voice serious punishment by the law for criminal activities like using the Internet to spread rumors and defame people," People's Supreme Court spokesman Sun Jungong said during a live news conference carried on the People's Daily website.
"No country would consider the slander of other people as 'freedom of speech,' " Sun said.
China has more than 591 million Internet users and routinely censors the Internet by blocking access to websites with pornography, gambling and content critical of the Communist Party’s rule.
Twitter and Facebook are banned, but netizens flock to domestic social media, such as Weibo, and often post comments critical of local government officials or broader state policy.
On Weibo, the reaction was one of anger.
"Who is going to dare to post anything negative now?" wrote one online commentator.
Among the serious cases the government is trying to crack down on is the spreading of false information that causes protests, ethnic or religious unrest, or has a "bad international effect."
In a commentary carried by Xinhua, Qiao Xinsheng at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law said freedom of speech does not mean freedom to disseminate misinformation.
"To say whatever one wants to say is a misinterpretation of freedom of speech," said Qiao.
Meanwhile, Tian Zhihui, a professor from the Communication University of China, wrote that freedom of speech "may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society or of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens."
President Xi Jinping's newly installed government has been clamping down on dissent of late, and there have been many detentions in recent months for "rumor-mongering." They include a man who slandered a group of war heroes from World War II and another who wrote negative things about the Communist icon Lei Fang, who was known for his good works.